Sometimes, a short phone conversation can say volumes about the state a society is in.
"Please don't mention my name because I might not be able to graduate," this writer heard a female voice pleading.
The voice on the other end of the line was that of a red-shirt Chulalongkorn University student. She did not want to be identified, even though she had earlier called to report the incident when she and seven other fellow students ended up having their placards confiscated as soon as Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva arrived at the university to deliver a speech.
This writer tried but failed to convince her that she had nothing to fear and that it is the authorities, the prime minister and the lecturer who intimidated her who should be ashamed. Still, her story cannot be published because she's too scared.
This incident is probably a good indication of the fact that maybe both the government, and the ruling elite that are intimidating others, are afraid too. They are terrified of the changes that the major transitions in Thai politics and society will bring, and this was made clear by their claims that the red shirts and Thaksin Shinawatra were allegedly plotting to overthrow the monarchy. These people are also afraid to admit that the rural and the urban poor have changed and now want a greater political say as well as a more equitable economic share.
They are insecure, and perhaps even paranoid, about what might become of Thai society in say five or ten years. And when the ruling elite is insecure, fearful and paranoid, they overreact by instilling fear in those they believe to be their enemies.
But all this does is perpetuate a cycle of fear in society.
The student who called this writer might be terrified, but she's not afraid to say that she hates Abhisit for making those who think differently fearful by imposing the emergency decree as well as bringing the red-shirt protest to a bloody end.
However, some reds might have crossed the threshold of fear. People like Sombat Boon-ngam-anong and Somyos Pruksakasemsuk are determined to bring down the regime they consider illegitimate. Both were "briefly" detained and now face charges for violating the emergency decree. Yet, it appears that these charges and possible punishment that will be meted out is like a fire that is forging their belief and making it stronger. And they are not the only ones.
One can't help but ask why the government is refusing to stop and reconsider now that it has had Bangkok and its surrounding provinces under emergency for four months?
How can an administration that claims to be working for national reconciliation and unity continue creating such a climate of fear?
The "enlightened" ones among the ruling elite and the government should speak up before Thailand is dragged deeper into the vicious and destructive cycle of mutual distrust, fear and hatred.
Those in power should recognise the fact that beneath this veneer of political calm - that is artificially maintained by the emergency decree - the hatred is bubbling up because this "fear tactic" seems to have backfired.
Conflicts will continue with or without the emergency decree, but the government has to decide which option will produce the least hatred.